Holiday car rental: words of warning

Posted on April 12th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

Holiday car rental: words of warningIf you’re planning to hire a car on holiday this year, it might be helpful to know some of the common difficulties other holidaymakers have experienced, so that you can avoid similar problems when you’re away.

John Sansom, a travel trade journalist, says it’s damage to or theft from vehicles that have historically formed most of the complaints to hire firms, as well as endless queues at rental desks after long flights.

“The absolute classic was low cost holidaymakers pouring off night flights to Florida in the early hours of the morning and joining a huge queue for car rental,” he said.

“Many of the classic ‘condo’ (self-catering luxury house) holidays out there were based on the fly/drive model. Somewhat exhausted, often with fractious young children in tow, holidaymakers would be pressure sold into buying more insurance than they probably needed.

“If they wanted to check the fine print, they could, in theory do so. But if they tried to read the back of the rental form, they were confronted by paragraphs of tiny, light grey type that was completely unreadable in the circumstances, particularly with another 100 fellow holidaymakers behind them, all desperate to get out of the airport,” he explained.

Getting out of Miami was an adventure in itself, especially if you managed to take a wrong direction. “You would suddenly find yourself in a dodgy part of Miami very quickly,” warned John. “One firm, Holiday Autos, actually hired a local police car at a particularly tricky junction, to direct people the right way towards their holiday destination, and away from trouble.”

Thousands of holidaymakers have suffered from being oversold insurance and thus have ended up paying too much. The answer here, of course, is to buy online before you go, when you have a chance to examine all the terms and conditions and decide what level of cover you want. Then it should, in theory, be a quick pick up and go.

GEM has some good advice for making sure the hire package you choose is the right one:

  • Research the hire policy small print, establish the basic price and what it includes. Anything not included will be charged extra, so decide what you really need and what you can do without.
  • Remember, it will invariably be cheaper to arrange any top-up policies yourself. You can find these for as little as £2 a day online. Compare that with up to £12 a day if you buy over the counter.
  • Do some web research on any hire company you’re considering to see how many horror stories you can reveal.
  • If things do go wrong, then paying by credit card offers extra protection as you can hold the card company jointly liable and will be able to get your money back if the service you were promised is not provided.  Also, if you book car hire as part of your holiday package, then you will be able to claim compensation through ABTA.
  • When you collect the car, don’t be rushed. Take a good look around and get the hire representative to note any scratches or damage, however small. This will ensure you won’t be charged for previously incurred damage.
  • Your policy is unlikely to cover you for damage done to your car on private roads or farm tracks, so find out the state of the access road from your tour operator or villa owner.